GLEN RIDGE, NJ — An abrupt change of a 50-year-old Glen Ridge School District tradition drew concern from a number of parents at a hastily arranged meeting at Ridgewood Avenue School on Monday, May 8. In attendance were about 30 parents, School Superintendent Dirk Phillips, the borough’s three elementary school principals and a number of teachers. By the end of the meeting, Phillips had taken a step back by saying a final decision would be made on changing the tradition by the end of this week.
The change being discussed was Move-Up Day which traditionally happens on the last day of school. This is when students spend the last day of school in next year’s class with next year’s teacher and next year’s classmates. Parents at the Ridgewood meeting, during a comment session, said they felt the district did not get enough input from the parents before making its decision.
In an email to The Glen Ridge Paper, a concerned parent wrote that “many people are upset and surprised by the sudden decision by Mr. Phillips to reduce it to a two-hour class trip the week before school ends, thus ending the last-day-of-school tradition.”
According to the parent, the news of the change was leaked on a closed Facebook page and word quickly spread.
In an attempt to lessen this concern, Phillips sent an April 26 email to parents saying that although many children enjoy Move-Up Day, it makes other children anxious to have an overwhelming event on the last day of school. Phillips said that instead of ending the school year among classmates in a familiar setting, the way Move-Up day is now, children spend their last day with children they do not necessarily know, in an unfamiliar classroom usually striped bare until September, with an unfamiliar teacher.
He said that over a number of years it had been discussed among teachers and administrators to have Move-Up Day a few days earlier and make it only a couple of hours long. Then children would be able to go back to their current classrooms and discuss their Move-Up Day experience. And they would end their school in these same surroundings.
At the Ridgewood meeting, Phillips said the need for the change had increased over the years. He said when Move-Up Day started, he understood it lasted two weeks. It was then reduced to one week, then a few days, and then only to the last day of school.
“As administrators, it is our job to propose changes,” he said. “The classroom settings are not that welcoming on the last day. Teachers are packed up. A lot of administrators are not available.”
He said having the change would make Move-Up Day more comfortable for students.
Matthew Murphy, the principal of Forest Avenue School, said that teachers had strong feelings for their students on the last day of school. “But the students should still have the transitional experience by shortening it,” he said. “It can provide for more students, those that need more attention.”
Michael Donovan, the principal of Ridgewood Avenue School, said there were some parents who wanted to get rid of Move-Up Day altogether. But he understands that there was a tradition in place and the concern parents have for their own child.
“We don’t know if this is going to be an epic failure,” he said. “We haven’t done it yet.”
One teacher said she would prefer ending the year with the children she knows.
“But this is about the children,” she said.
It was important for her and other teachers to get feedback from their students because they knew each child’s comfort level.
“A class is a family,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a child, on Move-Up Day, sad and crying.”
One mother said the administrators should consider informing students about where they are headed next year through emails and not as it is currently done, on a piece of paper. Phillips thought this was a suggestion worth investigating.
Donovan said administrators make bigger decisions than Move-Up Day.
“We’re often making decisions about education and the school district without parents weighing in,” he said. “We were transparent and got input.”
Phillips said the administration will meet and discuss Move-Up Day.
“A lot of times, in education, things aren’t written in stone,” he said. “Our next step is to discuss this and have a final decision by the end of the week.”
In an email to The Glen Ridge Paper, Phillips said administrators will meet and review Move-Up Day and how to improve the student experience. He said both parents and educators were in agreement to continue Move-Up Day.
Improvements on how the parents are to be notified about their child’s placement for the next school year would also be discussed.
“A final decision will then be shared with the school community,” he said.
Following the meeting, Greta Sawa, a mother of a second- and a fourth-grader, spoke outside the school.
“In a nutshell, this is about leadership,” she said. “The only reason they held the meeting now was a post in Facebook. It’s about getting out in front of the community and asking for suggestions of appropriate topics.”
Another mother, Beth Berdasconi, who has a second-grader, also commented on Move-Up Day.
“We had a magical thing,” she said. “It was an insightful way of taking a difficult transition and making it an exciting event. For my son, it’s always done the trick. And my experience has been positive. But for some kids, there’s anxiety. The teachers know how to handle that. The change will take that day away. The school year will end with the former teacher and classroom. I don’t think Move-Up Day will have the same impact.”